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- 11 Dec 2019, 3 nights
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Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is home to a bustling harbour, Nordic cuisine and historic sites such as the imposing 19th-century Helsinki Cathedral, a striking example of Neoclassical architecture. Then there are contemporary must-sees like the cutting-edge Design Museum, which celebrates the works of Finnish architects, artists and fashion designers. Plus, the Helsinki archipelago comprises over 300 lush islands, so it's really easy to get out into the great outdoors – whether you're looking to sunbathe, go kayaking or take a boat tour.
Helsinki hostels are scattered across several neighbourhoods. Stay in a historic building in the city centre dating back to 1912, or in a boutique Helsinki hostel on the outskirts surrounded by greenery. Some serve free breakfasts, and many have free Wi-Fi. Others are made for socialising, with weekly parties, large common rooms and games. A few hostels in Helsinki even have traditional saunas, where you can immerse yourself in Finnish culture.
The city centre's full of Art Nouveau architecture, while the recently regenerated Kallio district is popular with students, with hip bars and eateries on every corner. For boutiques, galleries and cafés, stay in the Design District, which incorporates the neighbourhoods of Punavuori, Kaartinkaupunki, Kamppi and Ullanlinna. For a stroll near the water, head to Katajanokka, which is right by the harbour. A favourite with locals, it's a peaceful spot that's home to the distinctive, red-bricked Uspenski Cathedral.
There’s no shortage of city sights and rural escapes in and around Helsinki. At the harbour-side Market Square, you can sample Finnish classics such as Karjalanpiirakka – pasties stuffed with rice. The UNESCO World Heritage site Suomenlinna is an 18th-century sea fortress that sits across six interlinked islands. For a change of scenery, visit the island of Lauttasaari. It's known for its idyllic beaches and peaceful forests, and lies about 5km west of the city centre.
It's easy to get to the city centre from Helsinki Airport. Trains run regularly (every 10 minutes during peak hours) to Helsinki Central Station and take around 30 minutes. If your flight gets in late, bus line 615 runs to the station 24 hours a day. When navigating the city, you can take the tram or metro between neighbourhoods, and the ferry to explore the islands.